Last year, he ruptured a plantaris tendon, which runs next to the Achilles tendon, and missed 12 weeks. In all, he has managed just 16 games at NEAFL level. Even now, he has been on restricted minutes due to minor issues with an abdominal muscle and knee soreness.
“When things keep going badly it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, particularly when it’s a few things that keep adding up – it makes it a whole lot worse,” Ling said.
While opportunities to impress on the field have been limited, his attitude has endeared him to many at the club.
“The energy and excitement with which he bounces into the club each and every day despite repeated setbacks shows a resilience that I would not have been capable of at his age,” skipper Dane Rampe said of Ling at last year’s jumper presentation night.
That quality has also been noted by coach John Longmire, who broke the good news to Ling at a team meeting on Thursday.
“We were in a meeting and he started talking about an author or book I’d never heard of,” Ling says. “It was about perseverance and resilience. He tied that into my last couple of years and let me know in the team meeting.
“I didn’t know I was going to play before our Thursday meeting. I was very surprised, but happy as well.”
Recruited for his precise left-foot kicking and speed, Ling will play as a small defender against Hawthorn. He spent the summer watching his training and practice game footage with one of the best in that position of recent times, Nick Smith, who was rarely beaten in his 211-game career.
“He’s changed my thinking on if someone gets a lucky kick on you,” Ling says. “That’s been a good change of mindset for me, it’s helped me get a game now.”
Out of contract this year, Ling knows crunch time is approaching. With the Swans languishing at the wrong end of the ladder, there are plenty of positions up for grabs as the club plots its next era. Talk of reduced list sizes, however, does not bode well for the job security of a 23-year-old footballer still to prove himself at the top level.
“I was more thinking that at the start of the year, especially because I wasn’t training in preseason for most of it,” Ling said.
“The pressure I was putting on myself wasn’t very good. I’ve changed my mindset now. Obviously I need to do something now in my third year after not playing much in the first couple but I’m getting back to enjoying footy and being able to play and train which I haven’t been able to do.”
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald